Pride in public service and an appreciation for cultural preservation have steered Christine Jacobs to her new role overseeing San Antonio’s missions.
“I have always been interested in shared public spaces — museums, parks, etcetera, and the discourse that happens in those community places,” said Jacobs, who began working as the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park superintendent on Oct. 25.
Jacobs’ father was a Marine Corps reservist and police officer. She credits him with inspiring her to seek a livelihood serving the public.
“Both of my parents really empowered me by giving me the sense that I could be/do anything for a career, provided I help people,” she added.
Jacobs recalled frequent family vacations outdoors, including camping around the Great Lakes and regional road trips.
“Because I am passionate about people, I am particularly drawn to the meanings that these types of spaces hold for individuals, families and cultures on local, national and international scales, and the role that historically significant places have in identity and cultural continuity,” Jacobs said.
She took a course in National Park Service history while majoring in art history at the University of Colorado-Denver. There, she realized the importance of anthropologists, historians and museum curators in government agencies.
A follow-up internship at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Colorado further fueled her interest in understanding what impact over time people’s activities and decisions have on the land.
Jacobs worked in cultural resources at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming from 2002-2004. Next, she joined the Office of Tribal Relations and American Culture for the NPS’ regional office; she was the tribal liaison and managed the cultural anthropology and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act programs.
After that, in 2014, Jacobs was acting superintendent at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado.
She then spent five years with the American Battle Monuments Commission in Paris, working as an attaché to the U.S. Embassy on ABMC’s behalf.
Jacobs is familiar with San Antonio, first visiting in the early 2000s as part of a museum seminar offered by the Texas Historical Commission.
“I fell in love with the city, the history, and the genuine hospitality of Texans and knew I would be back one day,” she said.
When the missions’ position became available here, Jacobs jumped at it.
“San Antonio Missions National Historical Park embodies a combination of everything I am passionate about and I feel as though I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing, with the people I am supposed to be with,” she said. “I have never felt more inspired.”
NPS officials praised Jacobs’ return to the agency and heading the South Side missions. The Spanish Empire established the five church outposts more than 300 years ago. Some of the Catholic parishes are still in service.
“Christine’s prior experience with World Heritage Sites will be a great asset at the park,” said NPS Regional Director Mike Reynolds in a statement. “She has shown exemplary leadership and expertise in partnerships, operations and resource management.”
Jacobs’ arrival comes at a crucial time for the missions which, along with the Alamo, were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015.
Plans are underway to preserve the Spanish colonial missions and promote their histories through various initiatives.
Jacobs called the locales “a vibrant, living site.”
According to her, “While the historic mission-related structures, acequias and related features on the landscape provide the internationally significant backdrop and historic context, it is the enduring connection of the mission descendants, the active mission parishes, the school groups who visit in person and virtually to learn about Texas history, and those who recreate along the river and trails that continue to give meaning to the park.”
She added, “I think it is critical for us to continue to remain engaged with the surrounding community — as a good neighbor, as a unit of the National Park System, and as a key partner within the World Heritage Site.”
Understanding those past historic connections and appreciating the existing neighborhoods’ link to the missions are vital, according to Jacobs. She leaned much in her past employment with ABMC, and managing an NPS’ Native American affairs and American Culture office.
“It was reaffirmed for me that meaningful relationships and having the long view are the keys to success, and that persistence and positivity pay off,” she said, especially of her work with indigenous peoples.